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IGAD chief interviewed on humanitarian, political challenges

Executive Secretary of the Djibouti-based Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Mahboub M. Maalim
Mahboub M. Maalim, executive secretary of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD)

The Horn of Africa is facing huge humanitarian and political challenges, but according to Mahboub M. Maalim, executive secretary of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the region is coping. He spoke to IRIN in Djibouti.

Q: A severe drought is ravaging the region. What is IGAD doing to help member states mitigate humanitarian suffering?

A: Member states like to do drought management and response on their own. This time we are teaming up with the UN to have a UN-and-IGAD-led regional process. There is a new UN resident coordinator here, and we will take the central role in trying to have a regional outlook to the drought response mechanism.


Q: With the just concluded referendum in Southern Sudan likely to lead to an independent new African state, what will this mean for the organization?

A: It means looking after an extra member. We hope that because of the work we have done on the Sudan peace process, the Southern Sudanese would-be government would recognize the importance of becoming part of the IGAD fraternity. Secondly, [it is important] to give capacity-building backing to the new government. This includes civil servants that could be seconded from member states, developing strategic plans for them, looking at infrastructure systems and sensitizing the international community to work with the new state.

Q: What are your concerns about the post-referendum period? We have already seen hostilities in Abyei; are you confident that successful negotiations can be held on the key issues?

A: Successful negotiations will be held on key issues. President Hassan Omar Al Bashir has been very categorical and consistent; he respects preliminary results of the southern referendum. He [Bashir] wants to see this process through. I foresee no problems whatsoever if further negotiation [is] required to dispose of items remaining on the agenda.


Q: Eritrea has suspended its membership of IGAD. What is the current state of play with the Eritrea-Djibouti and Eritrea-Ethiopia border issues?

A: Eritrea has renewed its membership of the African Union (AU) and posted an ambassador. An ambassador accredited to the AU is also accredited to all the regional economic communities. These, including IGAD, work under the umbrella of the AU. I see renewed hope that I could probably engage Eritrea through the new ambassador.

The Djibouti-Eritrea issue is being handled through the Qatari government. The Emir of Qatar has brought the two parties together [and] most probably it is going to end in a fruitful way.

There has not been any progress regarding the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict. This [is a] fairly straightforward issue that requires the two principals to sit and discuss. Everybody is talking about what they think is the way forward, but the key is discussion. I call upon the Eritrean leadership to open a window of opportunity to discuss this.

Q: Eritrea’s position is that the boundary commission ruling was final and binding, and the sides agreed beforehand that they will abide by it, so there is nothing to discuss except to implement the ruling. Should Ethiopia first implement the ruling?

A: Ethiopia respects the ruling. But the parties must get together and say - yes this the ruling, how do we implement it? Even when a divorce has been granted, you go back to the house to agree what belongs to whom.


Q: Is there a concern that next year’s election could produce a repeat of the 2008 violence? How important is the ICC (International Criminal Court) process? If those mentioned evade ICC or local trial, what would be the repercussions for security?

A: We have made a lot of progress since 2008 [when the violence erupted]. However, I think the ICC issue in Kenya, where some very notable personalities have been mentioned and referred to pretrial chambers, if not handled carefully, could lead to panic and further misunderstanding between communities. These are senior leaders in their communities and not everybody accepts or believes their role as is being alleged.

Some of the names, many Kenyans believe, were basically thrown in. For example, the name of the head of public service, Ambassador Francis Muthaura. Around the time of the violence, I was a permanent secretary and I know the role that Ambassador Muthura played. The sudden appearance of his name has created suspicion that this is more political than judicial. If the ICC and the international community are really concerned about peace and stability in Africa, they must be careful how they use international jurisdiction, so we don’t cause more harm than good.


An African Union peacekeeper guards the surrounding area of an AU controlled post in Mogadishu
Siegfried Modola/IRIN
An African Union peacekeeper guards the surrounding area of an AU controlled post in Mogadishu on April 1, 2010. Allegedly, Somalia's transitional government is gearing up for a major offensive against the Shabab, a militant Islamist group who now control...
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Mission difficile pour le nouveau Premier ministre somalien
An African Union peacekeeper guards the surrounding area of an AU controlled post in Mogadishu on April 1, 2010. Allegedly, Somalia's transitional government is gearing up for a major offensive against the Shabab, a militant Islamist group who now control...

Photo: Siegfried Modola/IRIN
AMISOM troops work under a very difficult situation in Somalia, according to IGAD executive secretary Maalim


Q: A number of IGAD countries have been accused of interfering in Somalia. Does this interfere with peace efforts in Somalia and how does IGAD overcome such a conflict of interest?

A: There is a very thin line between contributing positively and interfering. When you are a person of good intention and working in the area of your mandate, it is very easy for detractors to say, “Look, you are interfering.” We cannot talk about membership in IGAD and talk about interference by members of IGAD in the Somali affair.

If it was not for IGAD, the name of Somalia would have disappeared from the international radar by now. It is in the interest of Somalia and the Somali people that IGAD as an organization, and its member states, exist and follow up the issues. There is no interference by member states.

Q: Are you saying that there is no conflict of interest between member states regarding Somalia?

A: Every member state has its own national interest. This happens in international and diplomatic discussions. However, this is not visible when we make decisions at the summit level. I have not heard of intrigues or skewed decisions that have been made for the Somali people as a result of a specific interest of another member state.

Q: IGAD has been involved in efforts to find peace in Somalia since 2002, but seems to have taken a low profile lately. What is IGAD’s role now?

A: I don’t agree [because] IGAD is quite active. We have stepped up the international nature of the peace process in Somalia. That is why the UN Security Council has approved the scaling up of troops in Somalia and why there is high level UN representation in Nairobi. When you have many high level actors who have come as a result of your invitation, you work alongside them.

Q: How would you rate the effectiveness of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the mission's prospects for 2011?

A: Excellent. They work under a very difficult situation, where collaboration is not possible and the command structure between themselves and Somali government forces is not harmonized. But [it has] managed to keep its core mandate to protect and defend the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] and major installations.

Their mandate is limited. They have been deployed there on a peacekeeping mandate. We have recommended to the UN that it change the mandate to peace enforcement. Until that is allowed, we cannot talk about whether they can seize ground [from the opposition].

On the prospects for 2011, the transitional charter is ending in August. Everybody is concerned. There has been a lot of apportioning of blame within the transitional institutions [parliament and the executive]. They have not been best of friends. We think that has adversely affected the desired output.

Q: What should the UN and the international community do to find a lasting solution to the Somalia crisis?

A: Listen to IGAD [because] member states are neighbours of Somalia. It is in the interest of IGAD members that there is a permanent settlement in Somalia. Therefore, they should listen to pronouncements of IGAD and give some weight to that. That has not been the case.

There are several pronouncements we have made that have not even found themselves on the agenda of the Security Council. I would like the international community to meet their pledges to Somalia. There is no point sitting in international conferences halls making a pledge which does not translate into assistance.

The UN groups who are holed up in Nairobi [should] decentralize and hold their officials accountable in terms of moneys being used, and be convinced that some of the resources are being translated into tangible deliverables on the ground. I would like the international community to compare the huge sums of money they are using to keep these ships on the high seas off Somalia in the name of fighting piracy, and the little money required to start on land [anti-] piracy programmes.

Q: Somalia is affected by the drought. Given the fact that most of the country is under the control of the opposition Al-Shabab group, what can IGAD do to secure greater humanitarian access to the vulnerable communities?

A: The humanitarian issue in Somalia is a serious problem. Unfortunately, it is not number one on the agenda. What we find in the international headlines are the number of people killed, the bombs, booby traps and all the other issues with political dimensions.

It is unfortunate that a number of humanitarian agencies that have been doing good work, even before the drought, have been chased away and are not operational. IGAD would want to pursue this with Somali defence forces and AMISOM to see how the military capacity on the ground, including friendly forces like those from Ahlu Suna Wal Jama, can create a humanitarian corridor.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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